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Types of Foster Care

If you’re considering foster care, one of the first decisions you need to make is what type of care you feel led to pursue. 

No matter which type of foster care you choose to pursue, you will need to work with an organization to complete paperwork, a background check, training, and a home study. A licensed placement agency can also help answer specific questions about which type of care is best suited to you and your family.

Foster Care

Foster care (also known as out-of-home care) is a temporary service provided by States for children who cannot live with their families. Children in foster care may live with relatives or with unrelated foster parents. Foster care can also refer to placement settings such as group homes, residential care facilities, emergency shelters, and supervised independent living.

Emergency or urgent care

These foster parents agree to be on call and to accept short-term placements as the need arises, including at night and on the weekends.

Therapeutic or treatment foster care

Children and youth who have a higher degree of social, behavioral, or mental health needs, and who may require more intensive services, are cared for by therapeutic foster parents. These caregivers receive additional special training and support to be part of the care team responding to the needs of children in their home.

Respite care

Every parent needs a break. Respite care providers step in to give foster parents needed time off—from a few hours to a weekend or more—usually on a regularly scheduled basis. States have different rules regarding certification for respite care. Check with your state to find out what is needed to provide respite care. 

Kinship care

Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members who agree to care for children are called “kinship” caregivers. Kinship care can be an informal or legal arrangement.


Many families foster with the intention of adopting, a practice that an increasing number of states are encouraging. Fostering to adopt has many benefits, including reducing the number of placements a child experiences, and allowing a family to bond. This process is similar to the traditional foster care path, but families are deciding to only receive placements that are children who are “legally free” or “legal risk”.